Are you looking for an entry-level accounting job? Accounting is a diverse field with many career paths, and entry-level roles can range from data entry and bookkeeping to financial analysis and forensics.
Before you start applying for entry-level accounting jobs, you’ll want to consider whether public or private accounting is a better match for you. Public accounting is a promising choice for recent graduates who want to work with many clients. Private accounting — working in-house for a single company — lets you go deep into a specific industry.
Or, if you’re interested in solving financial mysteries, you might head into a career in auditing or forensic accounting.
Here’s a closer look at where you might look for entry-level accounting jobs.
Opportunities in public accounting
The field of public accounting is dominated by the “Big Four” firms — Deloitte, PwC, EY and KPMG — and supported by many local and regional firms. Public accountants provide auditing, tax, forensic accounting, and advisory and consulting services for clients around the world. In-demand specialties within public accounting include tax preparation and planning, auditing services, and financial planning.
In the current business environment, many companies, particularly small and midsize firms, need help supporting clients with consumer assistance programs and changing compliance deadlines, according to Robert Half’s 2021 Salary Guide for Accounting and Finance Professionals.
Public accounting firms often offer competitive pay and benefits and an opportunity to work with prestigious clients. Many also help support employees’ continuing education, including earning the certified public accountant (CPA) certification.
But know this going in: The work is challenging. It can be stressful and unpredictable — with long hours. Many public accounting firms prioritize work-life balance for their staff, but the hours and workload can still be intense for employees even when working remotely.
Opportunities in the private sector
Private accounting embeds you in one organization, so you get to know the company and its industry inside and out. You can find entry-level accounting jobs at family-owned businesses as well as Fortune® 500 firms. And while you don’t need to be a CPA to work at a private business, companies often pay higher salaries for accountants with this and related qualifications.
Accountants can take on various roles in the private sector. Corporate accountants might be involved in everything from helping to negotiate real estate transactions to managing federal and state tax issues and interacting with bankers.
Like public accounting, long hours and stressful demands can accompany accounting jobs in the private sector. However, private accountants don’t have to face pressure from clients to reduce fees and hours nor competition from other firms like their public counterparts do.
Also note that job stability in private accounting is closely tied to a company’s financial health.
Opportunities in financial services
Robert Half’s 2021 Salary Guide reports that the banking, lending and investment industries are showing strong demand for accounting and finance professionals. And, as lower mortgage rates drive loan originations and refinance activity, staff are needed to help borrowers with mortgage and loan modifications. This industry also needs risk, compliance, audit, fraud and forensics specialists.
In the financial services sector, commercial banking offers a path for finance professionals to work in jobs ranging from bank tellers and retail loan officers to commercial credit analysts and commercial bankers. Specialty areas in investment banking include fund administration, clearing and settlement operations, asset management, and collateral and derivatives.
Opportunities in healthcare, nonprofits and government
Healthcare remains a dynamic area for accounting, finance and revenue cycle positions. As the Salary Guide points out, tech-savvy accounting and finance professionals are in demand as healthcare organizations increase their virtual service offerings, including the use of telehealth.
There are many paths to take in the healthcare field. You might want to build a career in healthcare payroll jobs, for example. Or you might take an entry-level role as a medical billing professional and work your way up to become a supervisor, manager, director and vice president of revenue cycle.
The nonprofit sector, another bright spot for accounting according to the Salary Guide, is an option for building a career. Accountants for nonprofits are in charge of handling funds including contributions, membership dues and fundraising activities and ensuring that the organization follows the rules separating nonprofits and for-profit entities.
Entry-level accounting jobs are also available in government, at the federal, state and local levels. The Salary Guide reports that government agencies are looking to replace professionals who have retired and also hire financial workers to help support their efforts to modernize their infrastructure.
Government accounting jobs are ideal for people who are interested in public service, are analytical and have high ethical standards. Government employers can offer challenging and meaningful work and typically offer compelling benefits and retirement plans that often include pensions.
Average salaries for entry-level accounting jobs
Salaries for accounting positions are expected to remain stable in the year ahead, according to the Salary Guide. But in-demand talent can still command competitive wages.
Before you negotiate salary with an employer, it’s essential to know the going rates for entry-level accounting jobs. You also need to be aware of salary differences between public and private firms, as well as geographic variances.
As an example, the Salary Guide lists a midpoint salary (or median national salary) of $54,500 for a private tax accountant with less than one year of experience. For a public accountant specializing in tax services with less than one year of experience, it’s $49,000. The midpoint salary for a tax accountant working in the financial services sector is $71,000.
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Keep in mind that your level of education is likely to be a key factor in the number of entry-level accounting jobs you can land. For example, positions such as bookkeeper or accounting clerk may only require a high school diploma or an associate degree. But you’ll find more opportunities if you have a bachelor’s or master’s degree in accounting, finance or business.
If you’d like to pursue a career as a CPA, which opens up even more doors, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree with some graduate-level work— and perhaps an MBA. After earning your degree, you must also pass a rigorous four-part exam. This is an essential step if you want to work in some areas of public accounting: Anyone filing a report with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), for example, is required by law to be a CPA.
Finding entry-level accounting jobs
Whatever path in the accounting profession you choose, you can count on building a career that will grow with you as you earn new skills and gain more experience.
To stand out from the crowd when applying for entry-level accounting jobs, make sure your resume highlights your soft skills, such as communication and teamwork, in addition to your accounting skills. You might mention volunteering experience, for example, or point to collaborative projects you’ve been engaged in through campus organizations. Be sure to also showcase your previous work experience, such as internships or part-time jobs.
It also helps to demonstrate that you are comfortable working with and learning new technology. The use of automation, cloud computing, artificial intelligence and other technologies is expanding in business — and in accounting and finance functions, too.
When seeking entry-level accounting jobs, it’s beneficial to have a strong support system. An effective strategy is to work with a recruiting firm that specializes in placing accounting and finance professionals. A recruiter who understands what today’s employers want can help you find the best position for you.